Apple Is Still Trying to Sue the Owner of an Independent iPhone Repair Shop

Apple lost its counterfeit case against a Norwegian repair shop owner last year, but the $1 trillion company won't let it go.

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Jun 6 2019, 8:14pm

Image: Irina Dobrolyubova/Getty Images

Despite initially losing the case last year, Apple is continuing its legal pursuit against the owner of a small, independent iPhone repair shop in Norway. Apple is attempting to hold the repair shop owner liable for importing what it says are counterfeit iPhone screens into his home country of Norway.

Last year, Apple sued Henrik Huseby, the owner of an independent smartphone repair shop called PCKompaniet in the town of Ski, Norway. Apple sent Huseby a letter notifying him that a shipment of 63 iPhone 6 and 6S screens had been seized by Norwegian customs, and said that he must pay the company $3,566 and admit wrongdoing to avoid being sued. Huseby refused, Apple sued him, and the case went to court.

“That’s a letter I would never put my signature on,” Huseby told Motherboard in an email last year.

At issue in the case is the definition of what makes an aftermarket part “counterfeit.” The screens that Huseby purchased were refurbished, he said, and were never advertised as official Apple parts and were thus not counterfeit. Apple logos on the screen were painted over, and wouldn’t be visible anyway to anyone who used a repaired iPhone (the logos would face the inside of the phone.) In April 2018, the court decided that because the logos were not visible, Apple's trademark hadn't been violated, and Huseby won the case.

Apple appealed that decision, however, and the case was reheard by a higher Norwegian court on Monday and Tuesday, leading right to repair activists to wonder why the most valuable company in the world continues to go after a small business owner over a paltry sum of money.

“It’s the ultimate David and Goliath,” Janet Gunter, co-founder of the UK’s Restart Project, which advocates DIY repair in Europe, told Motherboard. “It really is almost as if they’re handing us our David. I always wonder with these big companies—do they see that he’s naturally going to garner more sympathy than they are?”

Kaja Juul Skarbø, who works for Restarters Norway, a group that organizes repair parties in the country, told Motherboard that Huseby’s case is of immense importance for the rest of Norway’s repair community.

If he loses, the court would be saying you cannot import refurbished screens, and also, Apple doesn't provide original screens,” she said. “So then, how is that a resolution? Obviously, independent repairers would not have the spare parts they need in order to be able to do the repairs. The consequence could be that you can't do independent repair anymore.”

Gunter speculated that the company could be testing the waters—that if it is able to win against Huseby, other independent repair company owners who use aftermarket parts could be next.

"Why choose a guy in Ski, Norway?," she asked. "I don’t understand why they targeted this guy."

Huseby confirmed to Motherboard that he expects to know the final result of the case within two weeks. “There was no special argument from Apple, they just said it’s counterfeit goods and use a lot of time explaining it over and over again,” he said. “I just have to cross my fingers and hope it goes my way.”

His lawyer, Per Harald Gjerstad, said that the screens Huseby imported were made of both original Apple parts and refurbished, non-Apple parts. The glass, for example, is aftermarket.

“The screens are also not sold as an original but used as a refurbished, compatible screen,” Gjerstad said. “The goods are not ‘counterfeit’ when they are imported with all logos covered with paint.”

“Henrik never removes the paint,” he added. “It is of course possible to remove it, but removing the paint covering the Apple logo is very risky, because the plastic wires that have logo can be damaged by acetone or alcohol. You can also damage the glass if you use acetone or alcohol. The paint over logo screen is also mounted in the customer's phone and becomes invisible, therefore it is not important to remove the paint.”

Apple declined to comment for this article.

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Apple's lawyer held up printed-out thumbnails of the titles of some of Louis Rossmann's videos.

American repair professional Louis Rossmann testified in support of Huseby in via video chat, which he uploaded to his popular YouTube page Wednesday. Rossmann is facing a similar situation in the United States—a shipment of aftermarket laptop batteries was seized by Customs and Border Patrol before they reached his repair shop in New York City. In his testimony, Rossmann provided a general background about the secondary market for iPhone parts.

The point, as Rossmann and other right to repair activists have made for years, is that Apple will not sell repair parts to independent repair companies, which makes aftermarket and refurbished parts the only options.

At one point, Apple’s lawyer cross-examined him and presented to the court a print out of some of the titles of his YouTube videos in an attempt to paint him as biased.

“From some films you have uploaded on YouTube—the titles are more-or less ‘fuck Apple,’ ‘fuck Apple part II,’ ‘Part III,’ ‘Why Apple pisses me off,'” the lawyer said. “Is my understanding that you have some issues with Apple?”

“Yes, I have issues with how they treat the consumer and how they treat independent repair,” Rossmann replied.

Gunter said that regardless of the outcome, Huseby’s case has already had a chilling effect on repair because of the cost and effort involved in fighting the case.

“Imagine Apple coming to you with that agreement they tried to force him to sign and him saying, 'No.' It’s remarkable,” she said. “Him losing would be a devastating scenario. What we would have to do is create a war chest to try to fight these cases.”

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